UFOs, fascism, David Bowie, Madonna and Rangers - colourful history of Florence stadium where Scotland will play

Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup opener breaks new ground for Scotland who will play a Test match in Florence for the first time.

The Stadio Artemio Franchi is Serie A side Fiorentina's home ground. Picture: Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images
The Stadio Artemio Franchi is Serie A side Fiorentina's home ground. Picture: Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

The Stadio Artemio Franchi is usually home to Serie A side Fiorentina where the atmosphere is often raucous. Covid-19 has put paid to that for the time being but the stadium has a rich and colourful history which features fascism, UFOs, David Bowie, Madonna and Rangers - and also provided the backdrop to one of Italian rugby’s greatest moments.

The Azzurri may have lost 27 consecutive matches in the Six Nations but in 2016 they pulled off a remarkable victory over South Africa at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.

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The illustrious visitors led 12-10 at half-time through tries from Bryan Habana and Damian de Allende but Italy fought back in the second period when Giovanbattista Venditti added to South African-born Dris van Schalwyk’s first-half score for a famous 20-18 victory.

Italy players celebrate their stunning win over South Africa in Florence in 2016.

Four years later and the Springboks are the world champions while Italy languish. Scotland will be hoping a return to Florence does not spark a revival in the home side’s fortunes.

The stadium, with its modernistic design, was considered something of an architectural frontrunner when it was opened in 1931. It was initially called the Stadio Comunale Giovanni Berta after the local fascist leader but the name was dropped after the Second World War.

The ground was damaged by bombs during the conflict but was carefully restored in a manner sympathetic to Pier Luigi Nervi’s original design.

The strangest episode in the stadium’s history occurred on October 27, 1954 when a game between Fiorentina and local rivals Pistoiese was interrupted by events in the sky.

Rangers beat Fiorentina on penalties at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in the semi-final of the 2008 Uefa Cup.

The crowd of around 10,000 fell silent as they stared upwards as what appeared to be UFOs travelling at high speed abruptly stopped over the stadium.

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The objects in the sky have been described variously as cigar-shaped, disc-shaped and egg-shaped and it was claimed they emitted silver flakes.

One explanation posited was that the deposits were the silk of mass migrating spiders which had collected high in the atmosphere.

Ex-Fiorentina defender Ardico Magnini, who made 20 appearances for Italy and played at the 1954 World Cup, said: “It was something that looked like an egg that was moving slowly, slowly, slowly. Everyone was looking up and also there was some glitter coming down from the sky, silver glitter.

“We were astonished we had never seen anything like that before and we were absolutely shocked.”

The stadium has also hosted some notable concerts. David Bowie played there during, appropriately, his Glass Spider Tour in 1987 and Madonna performed the final show of her Who’s That Girl World Tour later that year.

Fiorentina won their only European trophy at the ground, defeating Rangers on aggregate in the final of the inaugural Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1961. The Italian side won the first leg 2-0 at Ibrox before completing the job by winning 2-1 in Florence.

Rangers took their revenge 47 years later when they returned to the stadium and defeated Fiorentina on penalties in the second leg of the 2008 Uefa Cup semi-final.

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